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10 Aphrodisiacs Around the World

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By Kelly Ferguson

Humans have had a long-running affair with foods believed to entice or enhance sexual performance, and it's led to a host of recipes for stirring up some mojo. Some of these concoctions are based on science, some are based on folklore, and some are just based on last-ditch efforts by really desperate guys. Here are 10 foods you never want to catch your parents eating together.

1. Jolt Juleps

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Since ancient times, most great sex has taken place when both parties were awake. Maybe that's why stimulants, from geisha tea to Red Bull, have long been held in high esteem as aphrodisiacs. According to a 1990 study in the Archives of Internal Medicine, drinking coffee increased sexual activity in 744 participating Michigan residents over the age of 60, strongly suggesting that caffeine promotes arousal. That, or the subjects confused the study with a casting call for another sequel to Cocoon.

While caffeine has not yet been directly linked to an increased sex drive, the consensus in the medical community is that anything that gets the central nervous system pumping will have a general stimulating effect on the body. This explains why the ancient herb ginseng, which is said to increase energy and memory, is considered a strong aphrodisiac. It impacts the central nervous system, gonadic tissues and the endocrine system, thus enhancing arousal. Ginseng has long been respected in China for its systemic healing properties, including the ability to aid sexual function.

2. Yohimbine Chai Latte

Before Viagra, there was yohimbine, an oil that comes from the bark of the West African Pausinystalia Yohimbe tree. For hundreds of years, African natives have dried yohimbe bark and made it into a tea, used both as a treatment for impotency and as a general aphrodisiac. Yohimbine works by blocking the blood vessel-constricting effects of adrenaline on the nerves. This promotes the flow of blood to the genitals, thereby assisting erections. Although yohimbine doesn't have as much research (or Bob Dole) to back up its claims, the principles of operation are essentially the same as Viagra. It even has the same side effects, such as elevated heart rate, increased blood pressure and anxiety. In fact, while Viagra has become the recommended treatment for impotency, the use of yohimbine has also been approved by the FDA. Fortunately, the key component of yohimbe bark, yohimbine hydrochloride, is available by prescription in pill, capsule or liquid form.

3. Raw Oysters by the Bucketful

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You only need to gaze upon Botticelli's Birth of Venus (otherwise known as Venus on the Half Shell) to know why oysters are one of the world's most popular aphrodisiacs. For starters, the word aphrodisiac comes from Aphrodite, the goddess of love (and Venus' Greek counterpart). And since she's associated with the ocean (and in some stories sprang forth out of the foam of ocean water), it stands to reason that other fruits of the sea would possess similar charms, right? Actually, it's been theorized that oysters are considered aphrodisiacs because, evolutionarily, the origins of life began in the water. In other words, the concept is that we, like our amoeba ancestors, have a kind of subconscious desire to return to the primordial ooze to mate. (Ah, romance!) But perhaps the more likely explanation is simply that, nutritionally, oysters are high in zinc content, which is essential to testosterone production—testosterone being a key component in both male and female arousal. Now we know why Casanova liked to start his day in a hot tub with oysters served on a woman's breasts. Not that anyone needs a reason.

4. Green M&M Gateau

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The playground legend that green M&M's make you aroused has certainly made its rounds, but it's nothing more than an unsubstantiated myth. The green part of it, that is. Actually, chocolate is one of the most powerful edible aphrodisiacs in the world—and has been for quite some time. According to ancient Aztec history, 12 cacao beans (the beans used to make cocoa and chocolate) could purchase the services of a prostitute, and Montezuma reportedly downed 50 cups of liquid cacao to rev up before conjugal visits to his vast harem.

The scientific explanations for the arousing effects of chocolate are found in phenylethylamine (PEA) and anandamide (AEA). PEA is the chemical that causes elevated heart rates, increased energy, euphoria and generally any symptom corresponding to feelings of being "in love." So, apparently, PEA is what makes us drive by our loved ones' houses late at night and compulsively scan our caller IDs. PEA's cohort, AEA, is a neurotransmitter that acts on the brain in a similar fashion to tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the same chemical found in marijuana. And while chocolate won't get you stoned (sorry, dude), the presence of AEA probably explains chocolate's ability to calm and mellow.

5. Poached Rhinoceros Horns

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In Eastern Asia, ground rhino horns have long been considered a widespread cure for many ailments, including erectile dysfunction. Aside from the obvious allusions to potency, the source of the rhino horn's power is its scarcity. Humans love to attribute special powers to rare objects, and aphrodisiacs are no exception. But, unfortunately for the rhinos, their horns are becoming an increasingly rare commodity, making them seem all the more powerful. Naturally, the rhinos vigorously dispute this claim and are often seen campaigning for people to eat more white tiger penises, which are credited with similar erotic qualities and are equally rare.

After surviving 50 million years, the rhinoceros is on the verge of extinction—a fact that can certainly be blamed in part on poachers seeking the high-value horns. But, as of yet, the only scientific reason to consume a rhino horn for any purpose, sexual or otherwise, is the nutritional benefit. Rhino horns are an excellent source of calcium, but, then again, so are Tums. While a daily supplement is not wildly exotic or erotic, think of the many African birds that will have nowhere to perch if the rhino is gone. Besides, sneaking endangered animal parts through customs is no way to live.

6. Pig in a Blanket

Sometimes, edible aphrodisiacs are never meant to be consumed, but rather smeared onto the body. In the ancient Arabian sex manual, The Perfumed Garden, rubbing the penis with various ointments is prescribed for "increasing the dimensions of members and making them splendid." Similar procedures are recommended in the Kama Sutra. Ingredients for such practices include honey, camel's milk and lavender. While intriguing, the efficacy of the prescription probably has more to do with lubrication and the action of "repeatedly anointing the member" than the actual recipe.

An especially memorable recommended concoction for this instructs the man to catch a vulture by himself (very important) and mix the meat with honey and the juice of an amalaka (an Asian gooseberry-like fruit). Apparently, rubbing your body with dead vulture paste has the ability to bewitch the opposite sex, "even if a bath is taken afterward." How hot is that?

7. Steamed Organic Asparagus with Wheatgrass and Bran

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Many food aphrodisiacs date from a time when it was difficult to eat nutritiously, so finding a guy with a full head of hair and all his teeth was about as hard as bringing home a cute doctor who can't wait to give your parents grandkids. Fruits and vegetables are needed to ward off a host of ailments, and in times of myriad nutritional deficiencies, it stands to reason that vitamin-rich foods such as figs, grapes, avocados and carrots would be considered aphrodisiacs. Even today, these foods are seen as great sources of health and vitality. But of all the foods held in high esteem for sexual enhancement, asparagus reigns supreme (its main side effect, strong-smelling urine, notwithstanding). In 19th-century France, it was customary for bridegrooms to down three courses of asparagus at their prenuptial dinners. Perhaps all this greenery led to evenings of fabulous lovemaking, or perhaps it only made the bride wonder if the serious odor emanating from the chamber pot was normal for her new husband. In the wake of modern research, asparagus still holds up as a "superfood" due to its intense nutritional value. And although it's unknown if the long, firm stalks of asparagus work any true phallic magic, in this era of fast food and poor diet, it's surely worth a try.

8. Red Hot Chili Pepper Salsa

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Before Anthony and Flea, there were habeñeros to get everyone hot and sweaty. For centuries, people have turned to chili peppers to spice up their love lives. In fact, in the 1970s, the Peruvian government, apparently fearing "big house love," banned chili sauce from prison food, declaring it inappropriate for "men forced to live a limited lifestyle."

The theory at work for this aphrodisiac is that chilis ignite in more ways than one. Think about what happens after you eat a big, mean chili pepper: your palms sweat, your lips burn, and your breathing begins to shorten. One thing leads to another, and if your lover doesn't leave you for a big glass of milk "¦ arriba! Another theory as to why searingly hot chilis arouse has to do with the pain they inflict. Pain causes the body to release endorphins, which try to block the signal of physical distress to the nervous system. These are the same kind of endorphins that are released during exercise and after sex, creating that feeling that all is right with the world. So masochists take note: if the whip is out of commission, then hit the Mexican produce stand.

9. Licorice Beignets

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On a movie date, it turns out there is good reason to pay those exorbitant concession stand prices. For thousands of years, Eastern and Western cultures have turned to licorice when the libido is lacking. Licorice contains phytoestrogen sterols, which affect sex hormones (estrogen and testosterone levels), although exactly how and to what degree has not yet been fully determined. Some believe that the strong smell of licorice may be a factor. When Dr. Alan Hirsch of the Chicago Smell and Taste Treatment Research Foundation hit the candy store to find out which smells sexually appealed to people, he found that women were aroused by the smell of (oddly enough) Good n' Plenty. And for men, the aromatic combination of black licorice combined with doughnuts increased penile blood flow by an amazing 32 percent.

Doughnuts or not, Chinese, Egyptians and Hindus have all used licorice to increase sexual arousal and stamina. And in the traditions of pagan religions, crushed licorice root was used in love sachets and in spells to ensure fidelity. But whatever the purpose, be sure to use real licorice; the artificial "licorice flavorings" used in cheap candies won't contain phytoestrogen, just food coloring and corn syrup.

10. Spanish Fly Empanadas

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The long-standing legend that "Spanish Fly" can drive the ladies wild is a dangerous myth. The Spanish fly is actually a green blister beetle found in southern parts of Europe. For centuries, a preparation made from the insects' dried and crushed bodies (a substance known as cantharides) was used medically as an irritant and diuretic. If the chemical is given to a woman, it will severely irritate the urinary tract, causing extreme burning and itching in the vaginal area. And while these symptoms may cause a woman to grab her crotch, this side effect is not to be confused with an invitation for intercourse.

Today, Spanish fly is actually considered a poison, as an overload of cantharides can cause kidney malfunction, gastrointestinal hemorrhages or even death. In 1996, an FDA study proved that the chemical had no sexual effects on men or women, although you'd never know that based on the number of Spanish fly-related porn sites on the Web.

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10 Facts About Aspirin
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Aspirin may be one of the world's best-known wonder drugs, able to do everything from cure a headache to reduce a fever, but its powers stretch beyond your medicine cabinet.

1. It's not the same as acetaminophen (used in Tylenol), ibuprofen (used in Advil and Motrin), or naproxen (used in Aleve).

2. There’s more than one way to take an aspirin. Americans swallow their tablets whole. The British dissolve theirs in water. And the French prefer theirs as suppositories.

3. The ancient Egyptians took their painkillers in the form of tree bark. Egyptian doctors used to give their patients willow bark to relieve pain because it contains salicin—the raw ingredient in aspirin.

4. Aspirin broke into the European market in 1763, after British clergyman Edward Stone chewed on some willow bark and felt a renewed vigor. He shared the stuff with his parishioners and relieved 50 cases of rheumatic fever in the process. After Stone reported his discovery to the Royal Society of London, the race was on to package the miracle cure.

5. A century later, French chemist Charles Gerhardt published an article on how to synthesize salicin in the lab, creating acetylsalicylic acid. Nobody paid attention.

6. Forty years after that, in 1897, German scientist Felix Hoffman followed Gerhardt’s process and took credit for inventing aspirin. Hoffman worked for Bayer Industries, which introduced the medicine in 1899 as the first mass-marketed drug.

7. In the mid-1940s, aspirin became a huge hit in Argentina thanks to radio jingles sung by future First Lady Eva Perón. Her country became the biggest per-capita consumer of aspirin in the world.

8. The wonder drug doesn’t just cure headaches; it can also revive a dead car battery. Just drop two tablets into the battery, let the salicylic acid combine with the battery’s sulfuric acid, and you’ve got an instant jump! Just make sure you don’t have any salt on your hands. Adding sodium to the aspirin-and-car-battery combo can cause an explosion.

9. So how does aspirin work? No one knew for sure until the 1970s, when British scientist John Vane discovered that aspirin reduces the body’s production of prostaglandins—fatty acids that cause swelling and pain.

10. Here’s another reason to eat your fruits and veggies: When the body gets a healthy dose of the benzoic acid in those foods, it makes its own salicylic acid, or aspirin.

A version of this story appeared in Mental Floss magazine.

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How Kiss's Alive! Saved Their Record Label—And Changed the Music Industry
Peter Cade, Central Press/Getty Images
Peter Cade, Central Press/Getty Images

It was late 1974, and Neil Bogart, CEO of Casablanca Records, was falling apart. His wife of nine years had divorced him. Warner Bros., Casablanca’s onetime parent company, had cut the fledgling label loose, saddling Bogart with crippling overhead and advertising costs. The company’s headquarters—a two-story house off the Sunset Strip that Bogart (no relation to Humphrey) decorated to resemble Rick’s Café from the film Casablanca—had devolved into a hedonistic playground awash in cocaine and Quaaludes. A few years earlier, he’d made stars of the Isley Brothers and Curtis Mayfield, whose soundtrack for Super Fly had been an instant hit. Now, at 31, he was watching his career crumble.

But Bogart had a plan. As part of the split with Warner Bros., Casablanca inherited a promising project: a double LP of audio highlights from The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson. It seemed like a sure thing. In 1974, The Tonight Show drew 14 million viewers a night. The year before, as the CEO of Buddah Records, Bogart had sold more than a million copies of a similar compilation titled Dick Clark: 20 Years of Rock N’ Roll. Bogart was so confident in The Tonight Show project that he envisioned the album as the first of four highlight records, stretching back decades.

Before SoundScan existed to track album sales, the recording industry conferred “gold” status to any album that shipped more than 500,000 copies. Bogart shipped 750,000 copies of Here’s Johnny: Magic Moments From the Tonight Show. As it turned out, no one wanted to listen to audio clips of a late-night talk show. The album was such a flop that distributors even mailed back their free promotional copies. Industry insiders joked that it had been shipped gold and “returned platinum.” Or as Casablanca cofounder Larry Harris put it, “It hit the floor with a lifeless, echoing thud.”

By the end of 1974, Casablanca was broke. To make payroll, Bogart cashed in his line of credit at a Las Vegas casino. The label seemed doomed. It needed a cheap hit just to survive.

One of the bands on Casablanca’s roster was in similarly rough shape. Kiss, a flamboyant heavy metal outfit from New York City, had released three albums by the spring of 1975. The band had a cult following in the Rust Belt. But the moment Kiss stepped into the studio, they deflated, unable to replicate the raucous energy of their live concerts.

This may have been an impossible task. Since their first gig in 1973, the foursome had performed only in Kabuki-style makeup, black leather costumes, and towering platform shoes. Onstage, Gene Simmons, the Israeli-born bassist with a 7-inch tongue, spat fire and fake blood at the audience. Blasts of smoke and pyrotechnics punctuated hard-driving songs like “Strutter,” “Deuce,” and “Black Diamond.” At the end of each set, drummer Peter Criss rose 10 feet above the stage atop a hydraulic drum riser. This intimidating stagecraft belied Kiss’s sound: more pop than metal, closer to David Bowie than Black Sabbath on the ’70s rock spectrum. Kiss’s stage show was so over the top that Bogart pitched the band as a headline act before the foursome had a legitimate hit. Queen, Genesis, and Aerosmith all canceled bookings with Kiss because no one wanted to play after the band.

But if Kiss was a circus act, Bogart was its P.T. Barnum. At pitch meetings, he’d unleash fireballs from his hand using magician’s flash paper, declaring “Kiss is magic!” Bogart hounded DJs, TV hosts, critics, and music magazines, pushing the Kiss brand. He even convinced Kiss to record a cover of “Kissin’ Time”—a single by ’60s teen idol Bobby Rydell—as a promotional tie-in for a nationwide kissing contest called “The Great Kiss-Off.”

None of it worked. And Kiss was fed up. The band received a meager $15,000 advance for its first three albums—Kiss, Hotter Than Hell, and Dressed to Kill— and despite Bogart’s fiery efforts, it had yet to see royalties. He’d even produced Dressed to Kill himself because he was unable to afford a professional producer.

Then Bogart had an idea. What if Kiss put out a live album? It’d be less expensive than a studio recording and might preserve some of the band’s incendiary live show. At the time, live records weren’t considered a legitimate product; bands released them mainly to fulfill contracts. But Bogart didn’t care. He knew this was his last chance.

Kiss liked the concept. Within days, Bogart had arranged to record a multicity tour, with stops in Detroit; Wildwood, New Jersey; Cleveland; and Wyoming. Since Bogart couldn’t finance the tour himself, Bill Aucoin, Kiss’s long-suffering manager, put $300,000 of his own money into costumes, expenses, and effects. To oversee the recordings, Bogart roped in Eddie Kramer, a star audio engineer who’d produced albums for Jimi Hendrix and Led Zeppelin.

On May 16, 1975, 12,000 people packed into Detroit’s Cobo Hall—the largest venue in a city many considered the capital of rock ’n’ roll. Bogart and Aucoin went all out on production. To fire up the crowd, a cameraman followed the band from the dressing room to the stage, projecting the shot onto a giant screen overhead. During the song “100,000 Years,” flamethrowers wrapped the band in a curtain of fire. And this time Criss’s drum kit rose to twice its usual height.

The concerts were a massive success, yet the recordings were still mediocre. The energy was there, but the band’s musicianship suffered in its frenzied live performance. In the end, sound engineers recorded over much of the material. Nevertheless, certain core elements remain, including Criss’s drum tracks, lead singer Paul Stanley’s stage banter, and the propulsive fury of early singles “Deuce” and “Strutter,” in which the band’s energy soars in response to the sound of thousands of screaming fans. The physical record was an accomplishment of its own. A double album with a gatefold sleeve, it featured handwritten notes from the band, a glossy eight-page booklet, and a centerfold collage of in-concert photos.

Alive! was released on September 10, 1975. Five days later, Aucoin sent Bogart a letter of termination: Kiss was leaving the label. In desperation, Bogart, who’d recently mortgaged his house, cut Aucoin and the band a check for $2 million to retain them. Then everyone sat back and watched the Billboard chart.

The result was unprecedented. Alive! peaked at No. 9 and remained on the charts for the next 110 weeks, becoming the band’s first record to sell more than a million copies. By the end of 1975, major rock bands from Blue Öyster Cult to REO Speedwagon suddenly found themselves opening for Kiss. Today, Alive! has sold more than 9 million copies, making it the biggest selling Kiss album of all time.

Alive! rescued both Kiss and Casablanca from oblivion. The band’s next three albums—Destroyer (1976), Rock and Roll Over (1976), and Love Gun (1977)—were all certified platinum. In 1977, Kiss topped a Gallup poll as the most popular act among American teens. The late ’70s saw a superstorm of Kiss merchandise, including Kiss makeup kits, pinball machines, Marvel comic books, and even a made-for-TV movie called Kiss Meets the Phantom of the Park.

But Alive! also changed the music industry. “Shortly after it hit, just about every hard rock band issued live albums,” says Greg Prato, a writer for Rolling Stone and the author of The Eric Carr Story, about Kiss’s short-lived drummer Eric Carr. “Some of those albums were the best live rock recordings of all time: Thin Lizzy’s Live and Dangerous, the Ramones’s It’s Alive, Queen’s Live Killers, Led Zeppelin’s The Song Remains the Same, Cheap Trick, At Budokan.”

What makes Alive! a masterpiece, though, is how it captures the essence of Kiss—a hard rock band that was meant to be seen, or at least heard, live. “The emphasis on a live album is the experience itself, specifically how close the record translates and interprets the experience of actually attending the show,” says author and Kiss fan Chuck Klosterman. “[Alive!] jumps out of the speakers. It feels like a bootleg of the highest quality.”

Ultimately, Bogart’s excessive spending habits, along with his prodigious cocaine use at Casablanca HQ, led to his ouster from the label in 1980. By that point, he’d become the reigning king of disco, breaking such acts as the Village People and Donna Summer. He died of cancer two years later at age 39, having just created Boardwalk Records and signed the then-unknown rock goddess Joan Jett. In the decades after his death, the iconic metal band he’d helped bring to the top continues to tour, even making an appearance on American Idol in 2009. For 40 years, Kiss has been sending drum kits aloft (albeit with a different drummer), performing in fully painted faces, setting stages on fire, all in an effort to recapture an impossible sound. With Alive!, Bogart had created a chimera. It was a record that could never exist in real life: part raucous energy, part polished studio overdubs, a “live” masterpiece better than the best live act in rock history.

This piece originally ran in Mental Floss magazine.

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